EarthLabs > Corals > Lab 1: Coral Reefs, the Human View > 1B: A Closer Look at Coral

Coral Reefs, the Human View

Part B: A Closer Look at Coral

Close-up view of a hard coral skeleton. Photo source: Clinton Community College Biology Web.

Corals live in the sea, but sometimes we find pieces of them on land. Perhaps you've stumbled across a fragment of coral on a beach or have seen a piece of coral jewelry. Although you should never remove coral from the ocean or buy precious coral jewelry, studying the skeletal remains of coral can help us learn about what they were like when they were still alive.

  1. Examine the coral samples brought in by your teacher, first by eye and then with a magnifying glass or under a microscope if possible. For each sample, consider the following questions:
    • Where did the coral sample come from?
    • Is the surface of coral sample rough or smooth to the touch?
    • Is the coral sample white or colorful?
    • What shape is the coral sample? Is it symmetric?

    Checking In

    • Do the coral samples brought into class look like the corals you saw in the movie? What makes them similar or different?

  2. Coral reefs are teeming with life on every surface, in every crevice, and in the surrounding waters. Examine a living coral reef ecosystem by visiting a local aquarium or by checking out the following web cams with live streaming video:
    • New England Aquarium Giant Ocean Tank (Be patient for the video stream to load.)
      Located in Boston, MA, the New England Aquarium focuses on presenting its visitors with a naturalistic view of aquatic life. Their mission is "to present, promote and protect the world of water," and is commited to research and conservation as well as education and entertainment. The feature attraction of the aquarium is the Giant Ocean Tank, a cylindrical 200,000 gallon (750,000 liter) tank simulating a Caribbean coral reef. The tank is home to sharks, turtles, and many smaller reef-living fish. The tank is open at the top and is surrounded by a spiral walkway that allows visitors to peer into the tank through 52 different windows offering views of the reef from every angle and level.
    • Bonaire National Marine Park (The defauly refresh rate is 15 seconds. To shorten this time interval, use the pull-down at the bottom left of the window. You can also click on the clock icons to view the reef at any time during the last 24 hours.)
      Bonaire is an island in the Netherlands Antilles, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. Together with Aruba and CuraƧao it forms a group referred to as the ABC islands, which unlike most other islands in the Caribbean, lies outside the hurricane belt. The island is surrounded by coral reefs which are world renowned as excellent scuba diving and snorkeling destinations. The entire coastline is protected as part of the Bonaire National Marine Park and legislation ensures responsible use of the island's coral reefs, sea grass and mangroves.

    Stop and Think

    1: Describe the biodiversity you observed on the reef: How many different shapes and colors of coral were you able to identify on each reef? How many different types and sizes of fish? How many other animals? How do you think these numbers compare to the actual number of species that make up/inhabit the reef? Explain.

    2: How might you go about determining exactly how many species live on a reef and what their ideal living conditions and relationships are? Explain.